Thanks to the Big Ten Tournament being held a week earlier than usual this season, Penn State’s hoops squad will begin conference play tomorrow night in Iowa City when they take on the Iowa Hawkeyes. Much like the Nittany Lions, the Hawkeyes are coming off of a tough defeat in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge after getting hammered by Virginia Tech, 79-55.
Needless to say, both teams are looking to get back on the winning track tomorrow night, and to help us break down the perspective from the Iowa side of things is Harrison Starr (aka BoilerHawk, aka @HD_starr on Twitter) from Iowa’s SB Nation blog Black Heart Gold Pants. Mr. Starr was kind enough to do an Q&A exchange with us, so without further ado, here goes:
1. It's been a rough start for the Hawkeyes thus far, dropping back-to-back games in the Cayman Islands against Louisiana and South Dakota State and then getting thumped on the road at Virginia Tech. What have been the main causes for the team's struggles in 2017?
So far this season, it's been one marred by frustrations you normally see from young teams. While Iowa brings pretty much everyone back, save Peter Jok, from last year's squad, they don't rate as any older per KenPom (0.91 years of experience this year vs 0.90 years of experience last year) with the addition of two freshmen and limited minutes from upperclassmen. Junior Nicholas Baer was out for the first 6 games with a broken pinky and finally played with mixed results against Virginia Tech. His energy was highly missed but he went 2-9 from the field.
The Hawkeyes have also struggled at establishing a cohesive offensive philosophy. You'll hear a lot about their lack of guard depth but I think it's just misdirection for not having the roles defined. Plenty of teams go through a college basketball season with the amount of guards (four) Iowa has. They've just struggled to get consistency from them outside of Jordan Bohannon, and his is only newly found. However, the roster imbalance is readily apparent and is forcing Fran to lean heavily on the many forwards he has at his disposal.
Personally, I think this team would be better served grinding out games down low to open up the three-point shot and running transition offense when it's available instead of forcing it like Iowa's done under Fran.
2. Who are some names on the Iowa roster that Penn State fans should remember for Saturday?
The leading scorers are Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook with Isaiah Moss right behind them. Bohannon can absolutely catch fire from deep and Tyler Cook is putting together some quality post moves with the elite athleticism we saw last year. Iowa will likely start forward Ahmad Wagner and freshman center Luka Garza with the three mentioned above. They're going to go deep and bench forwards Nicholas Baer, Jack Nunge, and Cordell Pemsl will likely factor into the game on Saturday. I'd expect at least one of them to break out if Iowa comes away with a win.
3. In his seven full seasons as head coach, Fran McCaffery has led Iowa to the postseason all but once (3 NCAAs, 3 NITs). However, he has yet to make a run in the NCAA tournament deeper than the second round. Given the start to this season, what is the general fan consensus on Fran at the moment?
I'm probably not the right bellwether for sentiment on Fran because I'm a 100% apologist of his, out of state, and will always remember the depths from which he rescued this program. But, I came into this season with high expectations. I didn't really expect to see some of the growing pains which have plagued the team in their three losses. There's been stagnation on offense when the shots aren't dropping and it's hurt the defense since they've struggled to keep teams out of transition, namely in the loss to Virginia Tech.
Overall, however, my sense is people really like him and understand the best days are ahead of us with two top 40 recruits set to come in in 2018 and 2019. However, if this season continues along this trend line, I'm sure people will sour.
4. Fran is also a man of many emotions, mostly of the angry variety. What is your favorite “Fran Rage” moment?
I keep waiting for the national perception of Fran McCaffery to flip a switch and then he goes and gets a technical against Virginia Tech. My personal favorite is, and always will be, his broken chair moment at Michigan State. They later auctioned it off. Honorable mention to the walk-off against North Dakota last year.
5. Last but not least: Give us your #HotTake on how the game will play out this Saturday.
I'm not sure if it's a hot take, but I'm pretty scared of what Tony Carr can do against Iowa. Nobody's really shown an ability to contain jitterbug point guards on this team so far so I wouldn't be wholly surprised if Iowa went with the "let him get his" philosophy and hope he doesn't open too much up for his teammates. It would appear as if that happened a bit against North Carolina State. Add to that, they attacked the Nittany Lions down low in a way which Iowa should be able to replicate.
I expect a tight one but for Iowa to do just enough to come away with the win. 78-76.